With my second book well on the way to being on store shelves, life has returned to some sort of normalcy around my kitchen. That said, I use the term “normal” in a very loose way, because my cooking adventures aren’t of the normal or mundane variety (or at least I like to think that they aren’t).

Yesterday, with that in mind, I decided it was time to clean some of the cupboards. If you happen to be someone who has visited my home then you’ll know that cleaning my cupboards or pantry is far from a simple undertaking and this will be something that takes a few hours each weekend over the next three weeks.

You see, after finishing the writing of my vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free cookbook for backpackers in February, I had a lot of ingredients that would likely never get used before going off. I went through, checked expiry dates, manufacturing codes, and the like. My goal for the day was to tackle the cans, the baking ingredients and the pasta/rice/legumes cupboards. Three cupboards plus a big bin of speciality flours would be more than enough for one Saturday.

The whole process took about two hours. I used two boxes, a compost bucket, a garbage bag, and the recycle bin. One box was for what I would give away to a friend who has a child on a gluten-free diet. The second was for what would go back into my larder. The compost bucket was for things like legumes for the composter. The rest is self-explanatory. Next thing I knew I had two full bags of gluten-free baking supplies for my friend, a whole heap of things that were well past their expiration. Crackers from 2005? Unopened? Seriously? Then there was the brand spanking new box of Bisquick. I don’t use the stuff, obviously and have no idea how long it had been there. How wasteful! I’m not sure how the crackers or Bisquick got missed in previous throw-outs but they did. This is surprising to me, because I am a stickler for expiration dates.

If you decide to go through the food in your cupboards, which you should do from time-to-time, here are a few resources that I found helpful…

“Best Before” dates, “Packaged On” dates, “Expiry” dates…Oh My!

Still Tasty – The Ultimate Shelf Life Guide

Who needs to pay a professional organizer? Not me, that is for sure. Just a little time and some discipline is all that it takes. That and a big lack of cupboard space—small spaces mean that I have to stay on top of the organization or I just run out of room for storage. Next weekend I will tackle the pantry or perhaps I’ll work on the tea cupboard, fridge, and the chef’s cart full of spices, herbs, and oils.

I finished the afternoon off by making a big pot of Peruvian Chicken and Red Quinoa Soup in order to use up an open package of quinoa that I found. It was yummy and I’ll post the recipe (with photos) sometime in the next few days.

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It is Boxing Day here in Canada and I am not venturing near a stove or oven — after all, even a cook needs some downtime. Because I enjoy sharing my food experiences with you, I thought I would tell you about our new family Christmas Eve tradition. My husband, Bryan, asked me if I would make Boeuf Bourguignon for Christmas Eve last year when we were watching the movie Julie & Julia. At first I thought he was kidding and sometimes it is difficult to tell with Bryan. However, he was being genuinely serious. With great trepidation I perused my cookbooks to find a recipe for the dish. He loved it so much that he asked for it again this year. It has the stigma of being fussy and difficult to make but it really isn’t as complicated as it first seems. I modified the recipe from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook slightly by using triple A stewing beef. The wine I used was a lovely burgundy of which I purchased two bottles from the Vintages section of the LCBO on the recommendation of the Vintages manager. I will post more about the wine below the recipe.

boeuf bourguignon

makes 6 servings

6 strips bacon cut into 1/2-inch (12 mm) pieces
3 lbs (1.5 kg) beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 1/2 cm) cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 Tbsp all-purpose (plain) flour
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) Cognac or other brandy
3 cups (24 fl oz/750 ml) Burgundy or other dry, full-bodied wine
1 1/2 cups 12 fl oz/375 ml) Beef Stock or prepared low-sodium broth
1 Tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb (500 g) white button mushrooms, quartered
7 ounces (220 g) fresh pearl onions, blanched and peeled (see note)
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). In a frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté the bacon until browned but not crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Working in batches to avoid crowding, add the beef and brown on all side, 4-5 minutes per batch. Transfer the browned meat to a bowl and set aside.

Add the chopped onions and carrots to the pot and sauté over medium-high heat until the onions are lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle the flour on top, and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour is incorporated, 1-2 minutes. Return the bacon and meat, along with any juices, to the pot.

Remove from the heat, add the Cognac, and flambé. Return to medium-low heat, add the wine, stock, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Transfer to the oven and braise, covered, until the meat is fork tender, about 2 hours. Discard the bay leaf.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan over medium-high heat, melt 2 Tbsp of the butter. Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp butter, add the pearl onions, and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) water, cover, and cook until the onions are softened, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms.

When ready to serve, stir the mushrooms, pearl onions, and 1 Tbsp of the parsley into the stew. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the remaining 2 Tbsp parsley. Serve at once.

Note: Peeling pearl onions… Sweeter and less sharp-tasting that full-sized onions, pearl onions are no more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, with papery skins. Because they hold their color and shape well when cooked, they make an attractive visual contrast in a deep brown stew or braise. To remove the skins, trim off the root ends and blanch the onions in a saucepan of boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain, then quickly transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again and peel off the loosened skins; they should fall away easily.

courtesy of The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook © 2008

The wine that I cooked with and served alongside the Boeuf Bourguignon was a classic French Burgundy — Le Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2008 from Chanson Père et Fils.

Tasting note: “After a beautiful spring, the weather at the start of summer was quite demanding.  It became fine again from the end of August with much sun and a cold wind, which aided concentration of flavours.  The harvest commenced in mid-September in perfect conditions under an Indian summer. Bright red colour with dark purple nuances. Intense aromas of red currant and liquorice with a hint of spice. Concentrated and complex. Refreshing and lively. Very pure fruit aromas. Spicy nuances in the finish.” – http://www.vins-chanson.com

My notes: This was a very nice pairing for the meal. At about $20 Canadian a bottle it is quite reasonable. Because it is a lighter red than the Cabernet Sauvignon that I often serve with beef, the leftover wine also made a good pairing for the roasted turkey that we enjoyed the next evening for Christmas dinner. I love the fruitiness of this wine and how it balances with the meats. It was also delicious on its own and the finish lingered nicely.

mulled wine

mulled wine

In my last post I mentioned the Cookie Swap I hosted and the mulled wine. I had a few emails asking for the recipe and here it is. I used a Canadian Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon blend by Pelee Island Winery. Enjoy and toast to a Merry Christmas!

mulled wine

peel of 1/2 lemon
peel of 1 lime
peel and juice of 1 clementine
195 grams superfine granulated sugar
4 cloves
2 allspice berries
1 small bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
6 gratings fresh nutmeg or a scant 1/4 teaspoon
1 black cardamom pod cut in half
2 ounces cognac or brandy
5 cups dry red wine
2 whole star anise

Peel the citrus using a carrot peeler aka speed peeler. In a large saucepan add the lemon, lemon, and clementine peel to the juice and sugar. Add the spices except for the star anise and add the cognac. Pour enough wine over the mixture to just cover it. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir frequently. When the mixture has boiled add the remaining wine and the star anise. Heat gently for an additional 5 minutes and serve warm.

Last night I hosted my first-ever cookie swap. It was so much fun and the cookies were terrific. We enjoyed mulled wine and great company. However, I forgot to ask everyone to bring copies of their recipes to share. A few other friends have asked for my cookie recipe so I thought I’d just post it here for everyone.

vanilla-almond snowflakes

vanilla-almond snowflakes

vanilla-almond snowflake cookies

About ten years ago I purchased some snowflake cookie-cutters from a company named Gourmet du Village. The cutters came with a delicious recipe and a vanilla powder and turbinado sugar mixture. I’ve since lost the recipe but I still have the cookie cutters so I needed to come up with a new one. This recipe was adapted from an old cookbook in my collection. So now, every Christmas I can make pretty snowflake cookies that remind me of how much I love winter and the beauty of a snowflake.

1 1/2 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 egg
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Cream the powdered sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Mix in the vanilla, almond extract and egg. Combine the dry ingredients and then mix them into the butter, sugar, and egg mixture until you have a soft dough. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet with vegetable shortening or line with baker’s parchment. Very lightly dust your board with a little flour. Do the same with your rolling pin or use a pastry cloth on the rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking. Roll half of the dough 1/4 inch thick. Dip your cookie cutter into flour or icing sugar and tap off any excess. Cut the rolled dough into shapes with your favorite cookie cutters. Move, using a thin spatula, to the greased cookie sheet leaving 1-inch between cookies. Bake for 6-7 minutes or until edges are just start to turn golden. Remove from cookie sheet to cool on a wire rack.

When cool, ice with your favorite frosting and decorate as desired.

Makes about 50-60 cookies depending on the size of your cutters. I used 2 1/2 inch snowflakes.

Notes: To roll the dough evenly use 2 pieces of 1/4-inch dowel that are about 14-inches long. Place them beneath either end of your rolling pin. Roll the pin over the dowel with the dough in between the pieces. You’ll end up with perfectly even cookies.

Try to limit rerolling the dough to 1 or 2 times as the cookies will become tough if you handle the dough too much. Use very little flour to keep the dough from sticking as adding too much dough will result in a tougher, drier end product.

waiting for icing to set

waiting for icing to set

almond icing

2 cups icing sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoons milk plus extra as needed

Mix the icing sugar, almond extract and milk together. Add additional milk by the single teaspoon until you have an icing that is thin enough to spread but thick enough that it doesn’t run off the cookies.

For the snowflakes I iced the cookies once they had cooled completely. After icing a cookie I immediately sprinkled it with coarse sugar to add sparkle. Then I used a silver candy ball on each point to jazz them up. I found that decorating 1 or 2 at a time gave the best results.

Be sure to let the icing set completely before you package the cookies. If you are layering them in a tin, separate each layer with waxed or parchment paper.

Happy Holidays!

Swedish tea ring

tea ring

Christmas is just around the corner and I’ll be making our traditional family Christmas breakfast bread once again. I had a slight mishap with this in 2007. We had just moved into our home about a month earlier and I had a gas oven that I wasn’t used to. There I was, on Christmas Eve, baking the first of two tea rings. I sat on the floor in front of the oven marvelling at the fact that it was going to be our first Christmas in our new place. I saw a little lever above the oven door and started playing with it. What I didn’t know was that I had engaged the lock for the self-clean cycle. While the oven wasn’t on self-clean mode my setting the lock meant that the oven couldn’t be opened until it cooled to 90°F. So there I sat, crying, as my beautiful breakfast became golden, then brown, then black. Thankfully the dough makes two so once the oven cooled I was able to open it and bake the second one. I learned a lesson about playing with things when I don’t know what they are for. Even cookbook authors can have a bad day in the kitchen.

my Mom’s Swedish tea ring

makes 2 large rings or 3 smaller ones

Every Christmas morning from my childhood entailed waking up Mom and Dad, emptying our Christmas stockings, opening presents, and devouring slices of Swedish tea ring for breakfast. I remember one year Mom was so excited that she finally found cardamom and she added 1/4 teaspoon of it to the filling mix. It switched up the flavor nicely. It’s a very pretty bread that looks like a decorated wreath. Sometimes I divide the dough into 3 or 4 and make mini tea rings to give as gifts.

Measure into a large bowl

1 cup lukewarm water
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

And stir until dissolved

Sprinkle with contents of
2 envelopes Fleishmans Dry Yeast

Let stand 10 minutes then stir well.
In the meantime scald
1 cup milk

Remove from heat and stir in
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons shortening

Cool to lukewarm and add to yeast mixture. Stir in 2 well beaten eggs. Stir in 3 cups of pre-sifted flour and beat until smooth. Add in cardamom if desired. Work in 3 more cups of pre-sifted flour. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl and let rise until double in bulk.

Divide the dough into 2 and roll into a rectangle about 3/8 of an inch thick. Spread with melted butter to 1 inch from the edge of the dough. Sprinkle the following filling on top of the melted butter…

1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sultana raisins
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Roll the filled dough up like a jellyroll starting at the longest side. Seal the edges and place on a well-greased baking sheet. Bring the ends together to form a ring damping the edges to seal. Make slits about 1 inch apart but only 3/4 of the distance to the centre. Turn each section on its side. Cover and let rise until double in bulk.

Bake at 400°F for 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from pans immediately.

While still warm, ice with a mixture of…
3/4 cup of icing sugar
1 tablespoon milk (may need a little more)
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract